“I don’t want to die.”
A few weeks ago, one of our community members—his name is Jacob—came to the mission and was quite visibly shaken. I asked him if everything was all right. I then asked if we could speak privately. He told me about his health and how it was failing, how he suffered from severe pain, but nothing seems to help, not even the medication he is prescribed. In fact, he said how he ended up in the hospital the other day. All he was told by the hospital staff was that he was found lying on a sidewalk during a cold weather alert, wearing nothing but his underwear. The worst part, he said, was that he didn’t remember a thing, so that all he had taken was his prescribed medication.
Jacob reassured me he doesn’t drink and he doesn’t take any other drugs. He suffered a brain injury a few years ago, which caused him to go on worker’s disability. He was a successful welder and was quite lucrative in his career. Unfortunately, after the brain injury, he couldn’t work any more. To make matters worse, the drugs he had been prescribed were actually doing more harm than good, causing amnesia and causing him to wander. He said he had been pleading with the doctors for the last few months to change his prescription, but the team of doctors said that this particular medication was what actually was needed.
He then told me something that actually scared me; he said, “Father, I don’t want to die. I’m not ready to die. I want to live.” I told him I would help him in any way I could. I said, “Well, give me the doctor’s phone number. Let’s try calling him, and see what we can do.” So we called, but the doctor was away for a week. I really didn’t know what to say at this point. Suddenly, Jacob comforted me. He said, “Father, pray for me. Just pray for me.” I told him I would, of course, but I also told him: “I want you to pray. I want you to pray from your heart. Tell Christ exactly what your fears are.” I told him that the following week, when the doctor returns, we would call again and speak to the doctor together. He thanked me and then said he would, as long as he lived.
All week I prayed for Jacob. I hadn’t seen him at the mission, and obviously my mind wandered, thinking, “If he is actually alive…” I constantly thought to myself: What is actually going on here? How can people be suffering like this? This poor man! He is suffering, and all I could do was to tell him to pray. Was that enough?
Suddenly, Jacob showed up. As soon as I saw him, I saw that he was overjoyed. He looked like a new person. He had the most beautiful smile. And as soon as our eyes made contact, he made a bee-line directly for me. He embraced me and said, ecstatically, “It worked! It worked! You were right!” I thought to myself, “I was?” I asked him, “What was I right about? What happened?” He said, “Prayer! I talked to God and he heard me!” He prayed. He prayed, he said, with his heart and soul. He prayed with tears. God didn’t abandon him. And most importantly, Jacob understood this. He proclaimed that in his suffering and darkest moments, he prayed the following: “God, have mercy on my soul and my body! I am not ready to die!”
As I meditate on this, I came to understand what St. John the Merciful (or St. John the Compassionate, as we like to call him) meant when he said, “The poor are my masters.” Once again, my practical theological training came from the poor. Today, a poor man taught me that we must surrender to the will of God. We mustn’t just say it, but actually do it: surrender ourselves to the One who gave his life for us.
We are prisoners of this world. We are prisoners of our money, of our careers, of our own passions, of all temporal things in this world. The only way to find peace, to find true happiness, to experience true love, is to surrender ourselves to God, to make him our king, to live in total communion with him. How do we do this? Well, through constant prayer, reflection, holy communion, confession, reading and understanding the Scriptures. Just like Jacob, we, too, can become vulnerable and simply surrender ourselves to God’s will. We, too, can start talking to God. Someone once told me; they said, “See what he wants from you. You’ll be surprised how he answers you in your heart.”